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As survivors recall the attack on the Liberty

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The truth must be told, however belatedly, if we are to learn the lessons of history and avoid the mistakes of the past. That is the conclusion reached by survivors of the USS Liberty who recently held their first reunion since the Israeli attack on their ship during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The group has formed the USS Liberty Veterans Association to keep the memory of the Liberty alive and to see that the facts of the incident are finally brought to light.

On June 8, 1967, the Liberty, a clearly marked noncombatant US Navy ship on an electronic intelligence mission, was attacked by Israel in international waters off the Egyptian coast. Thirty-four of her 294 crewmen were killed and another 171 were injured in the 75-minute coordinated air and naval attack during which the ship was rocketed, machine-gunned, napalmed, and torpedoed.

Israel quickly apologized, explaining that it was a tragic case of mistaken identity in the heat of war. The US government accepted this explanation - seemingly without ques-tion.

The ship's crew was forbidden to talk with the press until after the Naval Court of Inquiry report was issued and afterward was warned not to discuss the attack - ever, not with the press, their friends, or even their families. The matter was closed and remained that way for the past 15 years.

But, as the Bible admonishes, ''there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed,'' and, as crewmen met for the first time in 15 years, the truth of the day's event emerged.

Israel's claim of mistaken identity was belied by crewmen who had been sunning on deck and had waved to the Israeli pilots reconnoitering the ship periodically for eight hours preceding the attack. Men in the radio room recalled hearing these Israeli pilots identifying the Liberty as an American ship.

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